When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat back in 2010, sports fans around the country chalked it up to just another notch on the curse belt that has been placed over the shoulders of the fans in the city. The Drive, the Fumble, the Shot and the Move loomed over their heads before, but now the Decision could be added to those moments of dread and despair for loyal Clevelanders who support their teams.
Thanks to continually being let down by the franchises in this city, Clevelanders have developed a certain attachment to the phrase “There’s Always Next Year.” The attachment to this phrase gotten to the point where many are unwilling to make a move for the now, in fear of losing out on someone who could potentially be great three or five years from now.
This sentiment has been at the forefront of the once rumored and now official trade for Kevin Love over the course of the last two months. Since striking gold by landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft with just a 1.7 percent chance, the majority of fans have been overly excited about the potential and hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins.
Who could blame Cleveland fans for getting excited about Wiggins? After four years of being forced to watch really bad basketball while youngsters like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson worked to mature, the slightest sign of turning the corner was something to fully get behind. With draft analysts throwing the names of Kobe Bryant and James around for a ceiling for Wiggins, it was hard for fans not to fully get behind the youngster.
But then something happened that altered the course of the futures of the Cavaliers franchise, the city of Cleveland and Wiggins’ future—LeBron decided to come home.
Entering the offseason after missing the playoffs yet again, the Cavaliers had some major questions to answer in regard to the future of their franchise. Would Irving sign a new extension? Can David Griffin get the job done as the new general manager? Who would succeed Mike Brown as the head coach? Can Irving and Waiters co-exist? And could all of these youngsters learn to play together?
However, the dominos began to fall in place the moment free agency started—as Irving signed a five-year, $90 million deal to stay with the team. Then, just a few days later free agency came to an odd halt, as the entire market waited for the decisions of James and Carmelo Anthony.
When James did not immediately re-sign with the Heat after opting out, a sense of hope began to slowly overtake the city of Cleveland. After leaving their organization high and dry just four years earlier, many began to truly believe that James would actually return to the city he publically broke up with on national television.
Unlike the front offices of the past who would have just waited for James’ decision in fear of being left at the altar, Griffin and the Cavaliers began doing something unfamiliar to fans in the city of Cleveland—they forgot about “Next Year.” With the slightest opportunity to make a run at James, Griffin struck up a deal to send Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev and a protected 2016 first-round pick out of Cleveland in a three-way deal with Boston and Brooklyn in order to clear the necessary cap space to offer James a max contract.
Now, Zeller and Karasev were not top tier prospects by any means, but the thought of giving up two former first-round picks for just a “chance” at James was not instantly welcomed with open arms by the fans. There were cries of “here we go again” and “the GM is mortgaging our future” before the day was over.
But Griffin and the Cavaliers were not done there, as they began to make contact with teams around the league in regard to adding another star player to the mix. Griffin was ready to do something that is rarely seen in the NBA—give up back-to-back No. 1 overall picks and a future first-round pick to land arguably one of the best players in the game in Love.
Not only was Griffin willing to make a deal, he did make the deal on Saturday. The Cavaliers sent 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, Wiggins and the Miami Heat’s 2015 first-round pick out of Cleveland in order to bring one of the top scorers and rebounders in the league to their team.
In doing so, Griffin and the Cavaliers openly announced to Cleveland and the NBA that they are done waiting for “Next Year.” With a core of James, Love and Irving, the Cavaliers have gone from possibly making the No. 8 seed this coming seed to being the favorite to not only win the Eastern Conference, but bring a championship to the city of Cleveland for the first time since 1964.
However, these moves were not made with the intention of competing for the next two years (the duration of the contract James signed). With a 22-year old point guard (Irving), 22-year old shooting guard (Waiters), 25-year old power forward (Love) and a highly driven and committed 29-year old James, the Cavaliers are attempting to build a dynasty for the city of Cleveland like the one that was supposed to come to fruition with the Indians in the 90s—and then some.
With the NFL regular season just a few short weeks away, usually Clevelanders are getting excited about the potential of the Browns—but there is something different in the air as you walk around Cleveland. While the rest of the teams are selling the future to the city, the Cavaliers are selling a combination of now and the future that cannot be matched by “Manziel-mania” or “BrOhio.”
In a day an age of the sports teams in the city competing for the precious dollars of the fans, the Cavaliers have delivered the trump card of all trump cards to the organizations in this city. With a combination of luck and gritty risk taking by Griffin, the Cavaliers have removed “Next Year” from the minds of Cavaliers fans and replaced it with “How Many” in terms of titles LeBron, Love and Irving can deliver to them. And that, for those who have suffered through the pain and misery of Cleveland sports, is the ultimate gift any organization can deliver to their fans.